Tom Dahlin/Viking Update

CBA language could force Teddy Bridgewater’s hand on contract

When the Minnesota Vikings declined Teddy Bridgewater's fifth-year option, it looked like 2017 might be his last with the team. Not so fast, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and its players association is a massive 301-page document that is meticulously debated and agreed upon by lawyers representing both sides going through every word of every sentence to make sure they have every contingency covered.

On the 128th page of the current CBA is the paragraph that could become a bone of contention between the Minnesota Vikings and injured quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Bridgewater, who has been sidelined since suffering a devastating knee injury just days before the start of the 2017 season, had his fifth-year option declined by the team at the deadline a week ago, making fans aware of a legalese term called “tolling,” which can extend another year onto a contract for an NFL player much in the same way an injury redshirt can be granted for college players.

At question is whether Bridgewater’s injury is going to be deemed one that will be tolled by the Vikings, effectively keeping him under contract for 2018 for the same salary ($1.354 million) that he is slated to make this season, which is now the final year of his rookie deal. Being the final year is critical to his deal with the Vikings.

Article 20, Section 2 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement reads:

“Any player placed on a Physically Unable to Perform list (‘PUP’) will be paid his full Paragraph 5 Salary while on such list. His contract will not be tolled for the period he is on PUP, except in the last year of his contract, when the player’s contract will be tolled if he is still physically unable to perform his football services as of the sixth regular season game.”

There has been some confusion about that portion of the CBA. Some believe that Bridgewater would have to be on the PUP list all season for the contract to carry over into 2018. It also goes into giving an explanation – other than the gigantic contract the Vikings would have to pay Bridgewater – if his fifth-year option was picked up. Under CBA language, that would mean that, for the purposes of 2017, it wouldn’t be the final year of his contract if the Vikings had exercised the fifth-year option and couldn’t be tolled. But, since the Vikings declined to pick up the fifth-year option, that doesn't apply.

If Bridgewater were on the PUP for the entire season, it would assure that Bridgewater would have the same contract number of $1.354 million in 2018 he’s scheduled to make this season. But the question is whether the tolling language applies to a player only on the PUP for the first six weeks of the season. Any player placed on the PUP list at the start of the season when rosters are cut down to 53 players would automatically remain on the list through the first six games of the regular season.

Last Friday, appearing on the PFT Live program with host Mike Florio, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was asked relative directly if Bridgewater’s contract could be tolled. His answer was measured and thought out, expressing an answer that he didn’t really want to make.

“We know the rule very well,” Spielman said. “We’ve talked to the Management Council. We understand everything that’s involved with it, but again, it’s something from a contractual standpoint that I’d rather not comment on. But, there are specific rules there and we’re quite aware of what the rules are.”

The question now becomes whether Bridgewater will indeed be healthy enough to pass a physical that would get him off the PUP list. There is no certainty that Bridgewater will ever play again, given the severity of the injury. But, the players association, Bridgewater and his agent would not want to see an extra year added onto his contract if he is physically able to play in 2017, because, despite his bargaining power being greatly diminished due to his injury in terms of getting a lucrative, long-term contract, players and the NFLPA always want the option to be in the hands of the player.

Given the rarity of this exemption, it could turn out to be a landmark dispute between the league and its players union. There is no real clarity as to how the article of the CBA will be interpreted, but the language seems pretty clear as it is written – if Bridgewater is on the PUP list in Week 1, he would appear to be under contract with the team next year as well.


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